Sometimes I Feel Guilty for Not Being a Female Scientist

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I feel guilty for pursuing a career in communications. I know that sounds totally crazy, right? Communications seems like a perfectly nice line of work for the casual extrovert. Really, it’s not that I feel guilty about choosing to work in communications. It’s that I feel guilty not choosing to work in science.

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Just let me explain. Unless you live under a rock (I’m looking at you, Patrick Star), you’ve probably noticed the push to enhance science education for girls and young women. Which, might I add, is great! But at the end of the day, what is the aim of this social movement? All-around enlightenment? Enhanced quality of life? The bottom line is about boosting female representation in science-orientated degrees and consequently professions. Of course, you don’t always notice this upfront. Let’s look at the newest Verizon commercial.

While campaigns like this certainly inspire me, they also stir up self-doubt. Have I let down society by going into a female-dominated profession? Am I somehow disappointing my future daughters? Will my career be as taboo as the 50s housewife persona someday? If the Amy Farrah Fowlers are the social pioneers of our time, then I – at the prime age of 22 years old – am suddenly old-fashioned.

Unlike the girl in the Verizon commercial, my upbringing was ripe with science exposure. I dirtied my dresses while fishing for worms. I handled power tools and learned to check the oil on a John Deer. I even won a medal in my middle school science fair. With remarkable teachers and a computer programmer for a mother, the “empowered female role model” box never went unchecked. On top of that, I worked my way through advanced math and science courses in high school. But is it enough?

I did not pursue a career in science, because nothing gave me a thrill like writing. So I left calculus for a life of press releases and feature stories – not because I felt discouraged as a woman, or some crap like that. Now, I work for a natural history museum, where science-savvy women are as plentiful as Dugger children. And  although I am not an ichthyologist or a paleontologist, I love being immersed in natural history. Every day I am reminded that a woman can be interested in science without being a scientist.

 And that’s the most important message.

We should pursue science because it satisfies our curiosity and encourages us to discover. If that curiosity fuels a lifelong quest by way of a career, great. You go, girl! But if it doesn’t? This goes back to my previous post about Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Whether a woman chooses to run a country or a home, become a biologist or a kindergarten teacher, she deserves to be supported.

Science education is a great thing, and I do believe that women should be exposed to and encouraged to explore disciplines like math and engineering. Now I can neither confirm nor deny that our social environment encourages or discourages women in science because, well, that’s not my area of expertise. But I do know one thing as a woman who works with – but not in – science. As we encourage girls and young women to open their mind to fields like engineering and zoology, we must always be sure that the focus remains on their passions – not percentages.

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10 thoughts on “Sometimes I Feel Guilty for Not Being a Female Scientist

  1. I really like this post. I find it ironic that in trying to support an “equality” in the sciences, movements also push down women who chose to follow “traditional” passions. It’s a passion—as long as a person, female or male, is able to pursue it, we should be thankful. I’m in sciences myself, and even there I’m pursuing what’s considered the “traditional” field: biochemistry, rather than physics or engineering. But it’s what I’m interested in, and I’m happy doing it.

    • I agree 100 percent. It almost seems that promoting one passion costs another, which is a shame. I had no idea it was segmented within the science community! That’s too funny.

  2. I absolutely agree with you! I just wrote a post about this myself. Although I know that we need to have people filling those science-y jobs, we should be encouraging girls to do what they love, not forcing them to be interested in something that they’re not. If science is their thing, that’s great! But it’s sad to see the other fields overlooked and unappreciated.

  3. This was great Laura! I’m bummed you ever felt guilty because while you would have been easily successful in science you inspire me with how you have found your passion! My pursuit of empowering girls and encouraging them to pursue STEM fields has nothing to do with percentages. I think the point of the movement at this time is to get girls on an even playing field where they are just as encouraged to pursue a STEM field as any other field. I know we never really had this problem growing up because our parents raised us in a way that encouraged us to be the best we could be and pursue whatever it is we wanted to do (Go Mom and Dad!) The scary truth is though that we, in many cases, were probably the minority and were very lucky due to being in relatively stable home, economic, and educational environments.Many statistics will show the decline in interest in science and math by girls as early as 4th grade. I think this is the main target of this movement because this is sign of a cultural and educational flaw, not the sign of a mature woman like yourself making a decision based off of her likes and dislikes after exploring many different facets.
    I love everything you say though, because it really should be about every person being able to pursue their interests regardless of gender or the stereotypical gender that fills a certain occupation. We are seeing this more and more with men becoming nurses, but we need to empower people both ways which starts with helping those young girls who might have otherwise given up, not due to lack of interest, but due to lack of confidence and other outside factors.

  4. Wow, Laura, what an amazing post. I have always had this nagging guilt about not pursuing science in the back of my head. I studied BioChemistry and loved it but my first passion was always writing. Thank you so much for putting my struggle into words and gifs 🙂 You even chilled my guilty conscience a little. You have gained a new fan!

    • Thank you so much for the encouraging words, Katrina! I am so happy to hear that this post helped with your guilt, and it’s always nice hearing that other people share my struggles/enjoyed my GIFs. I hope to see some of your writing soon! 🙂

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